Engaging Methuen Readers

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New Symphony Catalog: Music to Our Ears!

When you think of a symphony, an auditory extravaganza probably rises to the top of your mind. Personally, I think of Schubert’s 8th Unfinished Symphony and Megadeth’s haunting Symphony of Destruction. Coincidentally, those are both pieces of music that you’ll be able to order through our new Online Public Access Catalog, which is also called Symphony, later this month.

What’s a catalog and why do you have one?

A catalog is a list of all the items that our library system, the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (or MVLC for short) lends. Every time you look up a book on our website, you’re accessing our catalog. Unlike other lists, a library catalog includes a lot of detail about each entry, including title, author, subject, and location information. Libraries use these to keep track of, and check out, their items.

Why are you changing to a new catalog?

That’s a great question, reader! Well, until now we’ve used a catalog system called Evergreen. This was an open source system, meaning that we didn’t pay a company to engineer it for us, but rather used a free system that had been created by library employees. Our group of affiliated libraries, which is called the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC,) installed this system and hired people to fine-tune and maintain it about five years ago.

Evergreen worked pretty well, but there were some important things that it couldn’t do. For example, if you spelled something wrong while searching the catalog, Evergreen wasn’t smart enough to correct you. Instead of knowing that “Alise in Wonderland” was supposed to be “Alice in Wonderland,” it would just search for the incorrect entry and that would be that. Symphony is a lot smarter. If you make a mistake while you’re searching, the new catalog will catch it. Symphony will also tie in to Google results so that you’ll see library books pop up next to Amazon results when you’re looking for something to read on the Internet.

There are a lot of other neat things that Symphony will do, although most of the changes will only impact librarians. The biggest change you’ll see is that your service will get faster and more efficient.

What will happen to the links in this blog?

Sadly, the links in our old blog posts won’t translate to the new catalog. Happily, the new catalog website will be much easier to search.

What about my holds?

They’ll still be there!

What about my fines?

They’ll be there too.

Will there be any interruption of service?

Currently, our member libraries can’t order or receive any items through the Commonwealth Catalog, our statewide library catalog. This service will resume on May 22.

Between May 15th and May 17th, the library will still be checking out books, but there are a few things that won’t happen:

  • You won’t accrue fines. Hooray!
  • Holds won’t come in. Unfortunately, this is just part of the process of switching to a new catalog. They should arrive after the 17th just like normal.
  • New patrons will have to wait and register library cards on the 17th.
  • Dinosaurs will not return to rule the Earth. This is just nuts. I wish people would stop asking me about the dinosaurs. I assure you: they’re not coming back.

Anything else I need to know?

Just that change is good, and this change is going to be fantastic. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at (978)686-4080. We’re ready to answer all your questions during and after this switchover.

Thanks for sticking with us!

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New from Nevins: The Internet in a Box

So you know about the telescope. And the Binge Boxes. And the charging cables. What, you may be asking, will the library lend next? How will they top a telescope? Cake decorating supplies? Puppies? Actual money?

That’s small potatoes. Any library can do that stuff. We here at Methuen have our eyes on the prize. Fellow humans, I humbly present…the Internet!


Yup, that’s what it looks like. The whole entire Internet. Cute, right?

Actually, that’s not the whole Internet. I was just kidding! That’s just free, unfettered wifi access to the whole Internet that you can use without additional charges to your data plan or account. It has a range of about 50 feet and a battery life of several days.

If you have a Methuen library card, you can borrow this piece of sliced gold for three weeks. Yes, three. Whole. Weeks. If you’re not sure what to do with this modern phenomenon, then we have just a few ideas for you.

Go on a picnic

389286No longer are your World of Wizardcraft tournaments limited to the indoors. Get your geek on out in the real world! Whether you’re working, playing, or just don’t want to burn up your data plan out in nature, your solution is borrow a hotspot.

Just don’t forget that Interneting with the birds and the sunshine is hard work. You’ll work up an appetite for sure! While you’re in getting your hotspot, grab a copy of John Madden’s classic tailgating cookbook to help you prepare.

See the world country

From sea to shining sea, the hotspot will transport you to the world of the Internet. Take it1649533
to the Wild West or Las Vegas! Take it on the road and run your streaming music app on it. Or carry it in your pocket and check your map data-free as you explore your vacation destination.

There is, alas, one caveat: the hotspot will only work within the U.S. where there is T-Mobile coverage. Don’t worry. There are other ways to have fun while you see the world.

Make a statement

1588286Whether you’re selling Girl Scout cookies or peacefully presenting your opinion in the company of a thousand of your closest friends, a little wifi goes a long way. At Town Hall meetings, at farmshare coops, and at popup art demonstrations, our hotspot will be your buddy. Go ahead and livetweet that event!

While you’re at it, take inspiration from our online collection. You can download I am Malala through OverDrive, our digital book downloading service.

Be the life of the party

Ever host an event at a venue that doesn’t have wifi? If you have, then you know the misery that can ensue. You also may know the pain of hosting a neighborhood get-together and handing your home wifi password out to just one person who really, really 396450needs it. The next thing you know, you’re sharing your wifi with everyone.

Don’t just borrow a wifi hotspot for situations like these. Present it with etiquette fit for the 21st century. This is one situation where using the Internet to read up on something probably won’t work. Because, y’know, it’s the Internet. (If you disagree, by all means, please comment below. Don’t hold back!) If manners maketh man, then Miss Manners maketh a successful party.

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Eyes on the Sky

Did you know that Nevins Library is now loaning a telescope kit? It’s true! We’re loaning a giant box of optical wonder complete with a real live telescope, an instruction book, a pair of binoculars, and a couple of pillows in case you get tired. Stargazing does tend to happen quite late at night.


The telescope, snugly nestled in its bin, waiting for you to borrow it

There’s a wait list right now, but the sooner you get on it, the sooner you can get your star


The telescope, ready to stargaze

fix. Contact us about that. Meanwhile, here are a few things you can look for when you turn your gaze to the heavens above us. Or, since we’re really just riding a tiny sphere that is screaming pell mell through the endless void of space, the heavens that are all around us. All the time. Even when we can’t see them through the comforting blue illusion that is our sky.



In the olden days, before TV, people still wanted to watch “Adventure Time” all night. That’s when we first cast our eyes starward and made up awesome stories about all the rad dudes and dudettes who lived in the sky. This was, like, the nineties. We didn’t know any better.

1068424Today, we still look at constellations because sometimes Netflix is slow. Start with Robin Scagell and David Frydman’s Stargazing with Binoculars, your all-in-one guide to observing the universe from an ocularly enhanced perspective. Of course, for more lore about the stars themselves, you might want to check out Mike Lynch’s Minnesota Star Watch, a vividly colorful book that will give you a thing or two to look at in the night sky.


The word “planet” originally meant “wanderer.” That’s because, while stars always appear to be in the same positions relative to one another night after night, the planets zip around the sky in predictable, but more dramatic, patterns. They’re also impossibly beautiful and pristine otherworlds, powerful testaments to the grandeur of nature. And humans might live there someday. Think about that. Someday, 966360the majestic desolation of Mars could have dog parks and McDonalds and registries of motor vehicles and smog.

But until you can drive through Olympus Mons for a spaceburger, learn about the planets with Dava Sobol’s The Planets, a journey through the solar system that doesn’t even require you to leave your chair. Sobol is also a fantastic writer who will keep you gazing at the page for as long as you’ll gaze at the planets.

The Past and Future of our Universe

Did you know that when you look at the stars, you’re looking into the past? It’s true! Light itself takes a long time to travel from the far-flung reaches of the universe, meaning that when it reaches your eyes it’s been on the road for long enough that it’s definitely run out of car games and music. (Our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, is four years away if you’re traveling at the speed of light. We estimate that light from this star listens to Dizzy Up the Girl by the Goo Goo Dolls over 94 million times over the course of its trip to your 667725eyeball. Do not judge its musical tastes. It’s been out of the loop for a while.)

And if that blows your mind, think about this: when does that light ever stop? And what happens when it does?

The universe is a wild and wooly place, and a telescope is only the key to its box of wonders. Stephen Hawking is on hand to explain it to you in The Universe in a Nutshell, and if you want more of the crazy awesomeness that is reality, check out Simon Singh’s The Big Bang: the origin of the universe, too.


Yes, aliens! Statistically speaking, they’re out there somewhere, but why the big hush? Where are our interstellar neighbors? Are we not forthcoming enough with the welcome 1220933cookies?

Maybe not. According to Paul Davies, chairman of the SETI Post-Detection Task Group, the lack of contact with alien life could mean any number of things. He lays it all out in his book, The Eerie Silence. In it, he does not suggest cookies. However, in my humble experience, a little thoughtfulness goes a long way. If you happen to see any interstellar visitors while gazing into the night sky, remember that. Aliens deserve a welcome wagon, too.



Contact the Nevins Memorial Library to reserve the telescope today!


Dystopias, Police States, and Other Uplifting Tales

Ever find yourself or your society sliding inexorably backward toward a dystopian hellscape reminiscent of Europe’s Medieval Dark Ages? Ever feel like the forces arrayed on the horizon of liberty are gathering like the coming of a long and merciless storm? Ever nurse the simmering fear that you might rise one morning to find that you no longer draw free breath, say free words, think free thoughts?

Buddy, you’re too serious! What you need is a good old dose of catharsis. Try these gut-busters. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have something to talk about during your mandatory annual loyalty test.


1984 by George Orwell449585

OK, you knew I was going to say it. You did. But seriously, have you actually read it?

Go do it. I’ll wait.



1488284Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

If your system isn’t good for people, change the people. It’s efficient! In a warped future America, mass-produced citizens inhabit pre-made social strata, kept there by brainwashing, genetic engineering, and physical reward. However, like all precision machines, a grain of sand in these works can initiate a total system breakdown. When an outsider penetrates the mechanics of this Brave New World, it will show itself to be anything but.



Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller, Jr.1047211.jpg

The end of the world has already come. Welcome to the post-post-apocalypse. Society is gone, replaced by a social system deathly afraid of the technology that caused the demise of civilization. But in one abbey, a group of dedicated monks preserve the writings of ancient pro-science sage Leibowitz, who may still, one day, become a saint.



1310034When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Hannah Payne is a criminal. It’s written on her skin, which has been genetically altered to show the world her crime: red, for the murder of her unborn baby. For the crime of abortion, she becomes simultaneously a pariah and the source of entertainment for a world both repelled by and deeply invested in sin. A modern revisioning of The Scarlet Letter!

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8 Books About Chicken Coops

Did you know that there’s solid evidence suggesting that the common domestic chicken is the closest living relative to the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex? It’s true! No wonder they’re such jerks! Let’s invite a whole bunch of them into our lives.


Backyard projects for today’s homestead

by Chris Gleason

Don’t move: improve! Chicken coops are among the projects here, but you’ll find yourself embarking upon a complete DIY-a-thon if you dare crack its cover. Be warned.

Art of the chicken coop

by Chris Gleason

Yup, this guy again. Turns out that he really knows his stuff. If you and your chickens really want a beautiful coop, this is your first stop. Think of your chickens and their yearning for beauty.


DIY chicken coops : the complete guide to building your own chicken coop

by John White

This book claims that even a novice woodworker can build a chicken coop. I personally dare you to try.

How to build chicken coops: everything you need to know

by Samantha Johnson and Daniel Johnson

You know that this one’s legit because it’s backed by the Future Farmers of America, an educational group that helps young people enter the rewarding profession of farming. See that kid on the cover? She has literally forgotten more about chicken coops than you know right now. Not after you read this book, though!


Building chicken coops for dummies

by Todd Brock, Dave Zook, and Rob Ludlow

Yup, there’s a For Dummies about this. Come on, it’s a chicken coop! How hard can it be? (She says, ignorantly.)

Chicken coops: 45 building plans for housing your flock

by Judy Pangman

No two coops should be alike. If you and your neighbors all get in on this, you might be able to build every one of these cute and innovative designs. Your only other alternative is to go into business. Sorry, you now know too much about chicken coops to back out.


Reinventing the chicken coop : 14 original designs with step-by-step building instructions

by Kevin McElroy and Matthew Wolpe

Fourteen? Just fourteen? Before you scoff, consider how badly you want a modern art version of a chicken coop. For the conceptual performance artist who also likes breakfast.

Backyard chickens’ guide to coops and tractors


At this point, if you don’t know how to build a chicken coop, then there’s nothing more I can do for you. Godspeed, and may free-range options present themselves to you in droves.


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Database Spotlight Special: Science Online

Who doesn’t want to know more about the world around us? I know I do, and if you’re like me, you like to learn about that world in infographics. That’s why we at the Nevins Library are proud to present Science Online, a new-to-us database whose mission is to teach you about the natural world.

While there are designated student resources here, they tend to focus on how not to cheat or choose insane research project topics like “Is Area 51 Hiding Aliens?” (Yes, I actually did see that at a science fair once. Clearly, the poor child was Science Online-deprived.) Students may find citeable material here, but for the most part, it is authorless and more like a detailed encyclopedia than not. For preliminary research into a topic, however, Science Online can’t be beat. The E-Learning modules focus on general topics and narrow to cover specifics. For example, the E-Learning module covering Global Warming encompasses climate systems, cycles, and trends, each of those containing several of their own subtopics. A navigation menu on the right allows users to skip to the subtopics they need.


For teachers, the designated curriculum tools have relatively little of use. Helpfully, they will expound upon the importance of STEM education, but one suspects that professional teachers are already aware. The rest of the site is such a gold mine of infographics, experiments and videos that it’s well worth an educator’s time, however. If you go back to the Home page by clicking on its tab, you’ll see that you have the option of opening diagrams through the menu on the right-hand side of the screen, under “Browse Resources.”. Alternatively, you can scroll down until you see a section devoted to diagrams.


These diagrams, incidentally, are organized in direct alphabetical order. No subheadings here.


Perchance you may have noticed the issue with this choice of database structure. Instead of scrolling through the two thousand plus diagrams, try using the handy one-line search interface above.


From anywhere on the site, a search will turn up a page that looks like this one. That means that if you start searching from the Diagrams page, you’re still going to get article, image, and news results. Click on “Experiments & Diagrams” to see the glory that is the amoeba diagram.


Click and you get a robust interface from which you can download, print, and share the diagram.


Advanced search options are located in a rollover menu under the “Search Options” tab. (You can also view your search history from there.) Once you get to the advanced search page, prepare to learn about Boolean, because that’s what you’re going to be using.


This may seem unfair to you, but as we all know, only things that involve great effort are worth doing.

When you navigate back to the home screen, you’ll see that you also have access to videos, virtual experiments, and biographies. (Biographies will be called “Featured People” and will be at the bottom of the page.)


The reason I like the bios is that they’re organized in an incredibly useful way. At least, for a grade-school teacher who’s laying out a chronological curriculum.


Yes, those birth and death dates ARE sortable!


This function also lets you find bios of people who are still alive.


Incidentally, you can also sort by description, though that’s nowhere near as useful because there’s no list of standard words by which these bios are categorized and, despite the usefulness of the sorting function, no way to filter by descriptive phrase. Ah well. If you think you know what you want in a bio, try Ctrl+F and search the page that way.

That brings us to the point that Science Online is basically a browsing database. It’s meant not as a hyper-focused research machine but as a general resource – small enough to flip through, lean enough that you won’t get bored with a bunch of useless content. A quick look at the Browse tab will verify that this resource is meant to be perused rather than extracted.


That’s the rollover menu for the Browse tab. Look at all that stuff as compared to what’s available when you try to use the advanced search!

Most of the time, I advocate that the first thing a database user should do upon discovery of a new resource is to learn how to search it. In this case, I recommend the opposite. To get the most out of Science Online, prepare to spend a couple hours and have a vague idea of what you need. You’ll easily browse to the sections you want and quickly and efficiently gain the background you need to move forward.

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Database Spotlight Special: How to use Library Edition

So you’ve decided to do your genealogy. Congratulations! You’re in for a fascinating search process. However, you may also be unsure of where to start. is one of the leading standards of genealogical research, but you might not want to shell out for their full service before you’re really sure if you’re into this whole ancestor research deal.

That’s why the library has a free version available! Library Edition has fewer bells and whistles than the full version, but the basic information is still there: census records, draft cards, naturalization records, and so much more. It’s only available within the library, either on one of our computers or on our wifi network.

Today, we’ll get started in Library Edition by researching an ancestor of mine, Great Grandma Connie.

I was lucky enough to know Grandma Connie personally, so I know a few things about her. She spoke with a heavy Italian accent. She was about 91 when she died in 1993. Her married surname was Mortelliti.

The first thing I’m going to do is head over to the Nevins Library homepage, thence to our Online Resources page and directly to, which is listed near the top of the page. Once you’re in, here’s what you’ll see:


The first thing we’re going to do is hit that green button and start searching. Here’s the basic search screen…


…But, as you can see, it’s lame. Is this the vaunted Well, before you slam your laptop and stalk away in a huff, click on the link that reads “Show more options.”


Hey, this Ancestry business isn’t so bad after all! Fill in what you know about your relative.


Notice that I haven’t written out Grandma Connie’s given name. That’s because I’m not sure about the spelling. So instead of making a million guesses, I’ve used a wildcard symbol. That asterisk tells Ancestry to add any number of letters after “Con.” This search will find “Connie,” “Concieta,” “Conchetta,” “Concetta,” “Conway,” “Conscript,” and anything else that begins with a “Con.” If I knew the exact number of letters in her full name, I could use a truncation symbol instead. (In Ancestry, this is a “?”) In the case of truncation, each symbol may be substituted for exactly one letter or number. For example, if I knew that my ancestor was listed as “Connie” in official records, I could search “Con???” This would yield “Connie,” “Conair,” and anything else where the prefix “Con” were followed by three letters, which would allow for any misspellings or a range of variation. I could also search for “Con??e” if I were sure her name ended with that “e.” However, I find it unlikely that she was officially known as “Connie,” so I’m opting to use the wildcard instead.

Even so, notice that I’m not searching in an exact way. The two radio buttons under her given and surnames, labeled “Exact…” are blank. I don’t want to restrict this search too much right now because it’s too new. I’m not going to press my luck by eliminating names that are not exactly what I’ve typed in.

However, I am more certain about where and when Grandma Connie was born. She was definitely born in Italy, so I’ll tell Ancestry to look for records listing someone Italian-born. This won’t capture every record listing Grandma Connie, but hopefully it’ll at least provide me with a couple detailed, fairly complete records. They’ll be a good jumping-off place for further research.

I also feel pretty confident that she was born in or around 1902. The box right below that field I’ve checked, and I’ve set Ancestry to search plus or minus a year just to be sure. (Not only am I not completely certain of her age, but documentation back then wasn’t necessarily spot-on itself.)

I hit the orange search button, and here’s what I find:


Success! I have a few records on my great grandmother already. I feel pretty confident that this is her – there aren’t many Concetta Mortellitis out there – and I know that she did live in or around Philadelphia. “Pietro” is an Italian variation of “Peter,” so that consistency further suggests that this record deals with the same person. It looks like at least one census officer had a spelling issue, but he wouldn’t be the first person to misspell “Mortelliti” as “Mortillitti.” (People spell that name every which way. “Mortelli,” “Martelli,” “Martellini.” For one unfortunate minute, I was identified in a publication as “Anna Tortellini Call.” Alas.)

This is clearly a job for wildcards and truncation, and we’re probably going to spend a while looking at Grandpa Pietro’s records, too. But before we dive down that rabbit hole, let’s open these records and save them. First, click on the record you want to download.


Look at all that information! This is the catalog record for this passenger list. It contains what we in the library industry call “metadata.” Metadata is searchable information about information. For example, a name and birth location both count as metadata and, sure enough, you can search for those in the database, because they’re indexed and placed in that record in a uniform way. Very convenient. But wait – there’s more information in the document that isn’t indexed! For instance, did she have any company or did she come over alone? Her circumstances may provide valuable clues as to who she was and how she made this incredible cross-oceanic leap to a new life. But we can’t find all that with a quick database search. Click on the little image on the left to open a scan of the passenger list itself.


Zoom controls are on the right. Click the plus sign to magnify the document.


There’s Grandma Connie! There’s Grandpa Pietro, too. It looks like he’s an American citizen, they’re already married, and he doesn’t bear the name “Donato.” Could that marriage have happened in her hometown of Diviedo? Was Donato Connie’s maiden name? What this document doesn’t say is as interesting as what it does. For example, here Pietro is supposed to be 29 years old, but the censuses from 1930 and 1940 suggest that he was actually 40! Was there a mistake on his passport?

Though this doc is exciting, it raises too many questions to answer right now. I’ve got to save it and examine it more closely when I have more context. To do that, I’m going to click on the green “Save” button in the top right corner. Options to “Send image home” and “Save to this computer” will appear. Sending will email you the doc; saving will keep it on your hard drive or storage device. You also have the option to email yourself the document in the metadata record, which we saw before. There, look for the orange button that says “Send Document.” It should be on the right of the page.

Puzzles just like this one lie before you on your own genealogical adventure. Once you’ve found one relative in Ancestry, just like I’ve found my Grandma Connie, then the rest are sure to follow. If you want more searching tips, come to our introduction on Saturday, January 28 in the Nevins Library at 10:00am. See you then!